September 30, 2011

Love in the Heart of the Church

Therese as a novice
Today is the 114 anniversary of the death of St. Therese of Lisieux, also known as "The Little Flower."  Tomorrow, October 1, is her feast day. When people hear that I have an affection toward St. Therese, and have read all her works, the conversation always seems to come around to receiving roses as an answer to prayers. I can honestly say that I have never ever received a rose from Therese, nor flowers of any kind. I like roses and I would love to receive one or more,  but I don't think receiving a sign is what's really important nor do I think that was what Therese had in mind when she wrote, "After my death, I will let fall a shower of roses. I will spend my heaven doing good upon earth.  I will raise up a mighty host of little saints. My mission is to make God loved..."

Therese, in her short life, came to realize that her vocation was to be "Love in the Heart of the Church." But what did Therese mean to "be" Love? She sees herself as a "victim" to God's merciful Love. She surrenders all she is to the Love of Christ, her joys, her work, her relationships, and most of all her suffering. Her aim in this surrender is to serve Christ and through serving Christ to serve the Church. Her motto, taken from John of the Cross, is "Love is repaid by love alone." In her singular devotion to Christ, in her Love for Him, she becomes Love.  It's all mystical theology and I don't claim to fully understand it, but as  Doctor of the Church Therese's theology of Love and the Little Way certainly has influenced many Catholics. 

What Therese teaches us in her "Little Way" is to make Love the focus of all that we do and all that we are.  Although Therese was a nineteenth century Carmelite, I am sure she would agree with Holy Father Benedict who wrote in his Rule in the sixth century, "Prefer nothing to the Love of Christ." The "roses" that Therese sends may not be the kind that grow in gardens, but they are petals of Divine Love that through her intercession God showers down upon those who Love.

If you have never read "The Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux," I highly recommend that you add it to your reading list.  The Therese you meet between the covers of the book is not the saccharine saint that is depicted on holy cards and statues, but a young woman who despite tremendous suffering and the Dark Night of the Soul, remains faithful and continues to BE LOVE in the heart of the Church today.

POST SCRIPT:  This afternoon after writing this I went to the store to buy some things to celebrate my husband's birthday this evening. I picked up an inexpensive bouquet of fall flowers to put on the table. Not really looking at it closely, I chose the bouquet because of the asters and mums that were prominent. As I unwrapped the cellophane surrounding the bouquet, to my surprise there were two red roses hidden in the center.

I didn't really need a sign, but thanks Therese.

Read the Bible

St. Jerome by Caravaggio
St. Jerome, whose feast day is today, is noted for translating the Scriptures from the original languages into Latin, what is called the Vulgate.  He is also noted for the quote, "Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." I believe that this statement rings true more than most people would think.

In my ministry of educating adults, I am surprised how little people know about the scriptures, especially the younger adults. In the Scripture classes I teach, the stories and people I learned about in elementary school are often are unfamiliar to my students. More and more of them have never actually read the Scriptures and their only contact with the inspired word of God is what they hear at Mass on Sunday or from the bible "documentaries" found on television, which are often filled with inaccuracies and conjecture. Yet after hearing the stories of our faith history and "meeting" the personalities in the written word, my students eyes are opened up to the beauty of the Scriptures and the awareness that there is more to the Bible than just what they hear on Sunday.  This also happens, sometimes in a dramatic way, in RCIA with those in the process who are discovering the Scriptures for the first time.

I agree with St. Jerome.  You can't really know Christ without reading the Scriptures, and that holds true for the Hebrew Scriptures as well as the Christian Scriptures. The stories in the Old Testament point to Christ, they prepare us for His coming. Many years ago I heard at a parish mission that BIBLE stands for "Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth." I thought is was cute and wrote it inside the front cover of my bible. Years later, every time I look at those words, I realize how true it is. There is a reason the Bible has been the best selling book of all time. Within those pages are  the tools and teachings we need to live a good Christian life and to come to truly know Christ.  Add prayer and meditation to the reading of Scripture and our reading becomes not static words on a page but a loving conversation with God. Add to that the wisdom and tradition of the Church, and the Scriptures become part of our lives as Catholic Christians. 

There was a time when all families had a Bible.  Inside was often kept family records, births, marriages, deaths, and despite what some people think, Catholics did read it and were encouraged to read it. I don't think the family bible is something that is important anymore, and I am sure there are many families that don't even own one.  Christmas is less than three months away, why not give someone you love the gift of coming to know Christ in the pages of the Holy Bible.

September 29, 2011


One of my favorite scenes in the film Michael is when John Travolta, playing the quirky but lovable archangel Michael, goes literally head to head with a bull. "Battle" he cries out as he confronts his foe much to the horror of those accompanying him. He of course ignores their warnings and runs into the bull and defeating him. 

Today is the Feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael,  the three Archangels whose names come to us through the scriptures.  Michael is probably the most well known, probably because he does battle for the Lord, the most famous being the battle with Satan that we heard in today's reading from the book of Revelation.  He is the patron saint of police officers, soldiers and basically anyone who is called upon to protect humanity.  He is also the patron saint of bakers which stumps me but perhaps someone out there knows the reason why.

People have always been fascinated with angels, those heavenly creatures created by God to serve Him and to serve humanity. I learned in elementary school there are nine choirs of angels listed from the lowest to the highest.: Angels, Archangels, Principalities, Dominions, Virtues, Powers, Thrones, Cherubim, Seraphim. Some of the angels are sent to earth to keep to guard us, to protect us, and to serve as God's messengers.  The higher choirs serve God alone. But angels have also been "transformed" in recent years into kinds of "new age" energy forces that often keep God out of the picture. We have to be reminded that angels have no power on their own aside from what has been allowed by God. And, like all power, it can be used for evil as well as for good. Remember Satan and his minions were once heavenly angels who rejected God and work constantly to turn humanity against Him.  But we must also remember that we have the protection of St. Michael and the other angels.  We should call upon them every day to be with us in our battle against the forces of evil.

St. Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou,
O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan,
and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

September 26, 2011

Amazing Grace

I have read where it could happen that when an ovary is removed a hormone imbalance can occur and the woman can feel a bit of depression.  It has been a week since my surgery and today I am feeling that sense of depression.  Part of it I can probably attribute to cabin fever.  I did venture out a bit this past weekend but maybe I did a bit too much because today I feel a bit of discomfort and tiredness. Part of it could be because I have had enough of doing the same thing day after day. Part of it is loneliness as I haven't had any visitors.  I would venture that a big part of it is restriction of my busy and active life.

This got me to thinking about all those who are homebound, hospitalized or confined to nursing homes or assisted living facilities.  Many spend hours and hours alone, with no one visiting them, with nothing to do.  Many elderly experience depression.  I am experiencing it after a week but I know that I will be back to work by Sunday and hopefully be cleared to engage in my regular activity.  Most of these people face this day after day for years until the Lord finally takes them home. How difficult it must be for them.

Perhaps it is a grace that God is allowing me to experience some of this.  I have to pray with it, but what is it that God is telling me, what is God asking of me through this experience. Perhaps He is calling me to expand my ministry or just calling me out of my own selfishness and look toward the needs of the lonely.  I am not sure.

Grace works in strange ways sometimes.  Sometimes it is subtle and sometimes it hits us like a brick.  I know I like to think of Grace as something gentle, a wonderful consolation that comes to us and evokes good feelings and joy.  Yes, Grace can be like that, but it can also be something that comes crashing in on us, it could hurt and make us feel like running away from it.  This second kind is what Dietrich Bonhoffer calls "costly Grace."  He writes in the Cost of Discipleship:
Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: "My yoke is easy and my burden is light."
I have been confronted this week with many new feelings and experiences. As I continue to heal my body, I know that God is also working on healing my soul.  Yes, Grace is amazing, isn't it.

Climbing the Ladder

Jacob's Ladder by Marc Chagal
Yesterday in our thrice yearly reading of the Holy Rule we began Chapter 7, the chapter on Humility.  It is one of my most favorite chapters in the entire Rule and St. Benedict gives us twelve steps to achieve genuine humility.  In a previous post I quoted the section of this chapter where Holy Father Benedict compares the journey of our ascent to heaven to Jacob's Ladder (Gen. 28).  He says "we descend by exaltation and ascend by humility." I won't go into detail, but during my many hours alone at home following my surgery last Monday, the Lord made it clear to me that I need a good dose of humility before I can get a good footing on that ladder.

This realization did not occur overnight and it does not come easy for me to accept. I had to pray through it and am still praying through it.  The first step of humility is to "keep the fear of God always before our eyes."  God sees all and knows all and we simply can't ignore that.  If I am to climb that ladder, I have to be constantly aware of God's presence, His very intimate presence in my life each and every day. I have to put Him above everything else, and that means going beyond my own comfort level and fear so that I am being all that God wants me to be. It is not easy for me.

In the story of Jacob's Ladder, God promises Jacob something that He repeats and repeats throughout the scriptures and still makes clear today,  "Know that I am with you." (Gen 28:15)  God chastises us, and makes clear to us our faults and the areas of our lives where we keep Him out.   Here we have a choice.  We can accept the fact that God is calling us to change and out of genuine "fear of the Lord," that is fear of offending Him who has given us life and calls us to live that life in union with Him, or we can remain as we are.  The latter is the easiest course, but the question to ponder is where does it lead us in the end? Will the course I choose to follow lead me up the ladder, or will I be stuck on a rung somewhere in between because the climb seems to difficult?  The funny thing about this "ladder" is that just when I think I am reaching the heights of my ascent God shows me that there is still a long long way to go. The higher I go, the ladder grows more rungs. Sometimes it seems an impossibility to continue. Can I hold on, do I have the strength, will I ever reach the top, will I be able to continue after I fall a few rungs, or God forbid tumble down to the bottom? It all comes back to the promise, "I will will never leave you until I have done what I promised you." (Gen 28:15) On my part, I just have to keep climbing.

September 22, 2011

Of Folk Songs and Psalms

Convalescing from my very successful surgery with no pain and very little discomfort, I find it difficult to keep sitting quietly and letting my body heal.  Yet last night I found myself glued to the television watching a documentary on PBS about folk singer Pete Seeger.  Although I didn't know it at the time, the music of Pete Seeger had a tremendous influence  my own love of music.  

My earliest recollection of listening to music was my parents collection of Sinatra, Perry Como, Rosemary Clooney, and big bands.  Then in the summer of 1962 I began to attend CYO Day Camp in Coney Island, where I was introduced to folk music by a beautiful blond music and art counselor whose name I do not remember.  She played guitar and over the five summers I attended the camp, she taught us songs she heard in Greenwich Village by rising folk singers by Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan, and others.  I was immediately captivated by the songs, This Land is Your Land, If I Had a Hammer, This Little Light of Mine, Puff the Magic Dragon, Leaving on a Jet Plane and many more. 

Dad noticed my interest in folk music and bought me my first guitar. He loved to hear me sing and often asked me to sing for guests. His favorite request was Where Have All the Flower's Gone.  In retrospect I don't think he realized that it developed into a Viet Nam war protest song, and I was too young to even understand the conflict going on at the other end of the world from my innocent summers in Brooklyn and Long Island. But the music found its way into my soul and last evening's documentary brought back such wonderful memories that go beyond camp to 7th and 8th grade in Long Beach Catholic School and St. Agnes High School where my friends and I would play guitars and sing the songs that we grew up loving. By then we knew the importance of the words we were singing.  They evoked emotions, they made statements, and they defined a generation.

Folk music is still around, but it is not as popular as much of the noise that masquerades as music today.  Folk music had, has heart.  It speaks of the struggles of humanity, and it also speaks of hope and the perseverance of the human spirit.  It brings to my mind the Psalms of the ancient Israelites.  The longer I pray the Psalms, the more I come to appreciate their importance in the Judeo/Christian tradition  The Psalms are like folk songs. They come from the oral tradition of a people who were oppressed, who suffered, they are songs of lament and of sorrow. But they are also songs of joy and of hope in the Lord.  They speak of a common tradition, culture and history. They are songs that have endured by a people who have endured, and they will continue to be sung where and whenever there are men and women who have faith and a need for God. They are the songs who define the People of God.

I haven't played guitar in a long time, and my Guild twelve string is a ten string for the moment.  I haven't been singing much either, except as part of the assembly at Mass.  Yet the Psalms I pray several times a day. They bring to the forefront of my mind every human emotion, every fear, every joy, every desire. Like the folk songs I grew to love, they have become part of who I am as a Christian and as a Child of God. 

September 18, 2011

Patience and Healing

Healing the Bleeding Woman
Catacomb of St. Peter and St. Marcellinus

My surgery for tomorrow (Monday) has been delayed a few hours.  That's good and bad. The good news is I can sleep later and go to Mass in the morning. The bad news is that I still have to fast from 11:00 tonight.  I am usually asleep by 10 PM so that is not a problem, but if I don't have my coffee and at least something for breakfast then I get a headache and feel sick until I get the cup of java and some protein.  I can't even receive communion at Mass.  As the sisters would always say, "Offer it up."  I guess there is some wisdom there. So I will offer it for those who go hungry each and every day.

So the Lord is asking me to be a bit more patient.  I have been OK anticipating the surgery and it seems half the people I have asked to pray for me have had this surgery or knows someone in their family who has. I have received a lot of advice with regard to recovery, the most important being not to do much at all for the first three days or longer.  I am not the kind of person who could lay around all day doing nothing, but I am being forced to. I will have to have patience with the healing process.

It seems that it's important to be patient when seeking spiritual healing as well. For most of us, spiritual healing doesn't happen in a flash of a moment, but slowly after a period of time.  During this time we need to be open to the Spirit working in us and on us to bring about what we need to grow in our relationship with God, to heal from what ever it is that may keep us from being all that God wants us to be. But it takes faith and trust. Just as the woman who sought healing by touching the hem of Jesus' cloak, so too I must approach the Lord knowing that whatever I ask He will give me if it is in accord with His will for me. 

Perhaps during this time of physical healing, instead of spending hours watching HGTV and useless talk shows. I could spend time focusing on the Lord. I am sure He has a lot to say to me. Hopefully I will do some painting as I started a new canvas, and catch up on some reading and writing as well.  All these things are good for my spiritual well being. Maybe I will uncover something or grow in the creative gifts the Lord has given me...and that would be very good.

September 15, 2011

Learning about God

On Tuesday afternoon I heard a bit of a rukus coming from the hallway a few steps down from the parish office. I went to investigate and found a child of about six years old arguing with his mother who was registering him for faith formation classes.  "I don't want to learn about God," said the little born stubbornly. At first I chuckled and empathized with the mom. It is common for kids cry to their parents on the first day of school begging them not to make them go.  I can remember spending a morning sitting outside a kindergarten classroom struggling to get my son to go into the room (and this was after two years of pre-K). But last night, after speaking at a catechist meeting in another parish, I began to think how sad it really was. Here is a child who doesn't want to know God and who probably doesn't even have a sense who God is. Anyone who had taught faith formation has come across children like this who have no understanding of God, do not know what it is to pray, and have never set foot in a church.    One of our catechists tells the story of a first grader in a class she taught who when taken on a tour of the church said, "So this is what a church looks like."

I can relate to that in a way.  I don't remember ever being in a church until the summer before I began first grade in the local Catholic school. But, even though my parents didn't go to Mass when I was a young child, I was taught to pray and we did not go to sleep at night until we prayed the Guardian Angel prayer and go through a litany of people who we wanted God to bless. We had crucifixes, statues of Mary, the Infant of Prague, and a family Bible. I learned the Hail Mary and knew what a rosary was. My mom even had a subscription to a  children's bible monthly and would read us stories from the Old and New Testaments. By the time I started school, I wanted to learn about God, and religion was one of my favorite subjects, and I loved going to Mass, which by the way at the time was in Latin.

I think the scenario on the young boy's objection to learn about God reveals a deeper problem.  How often is this child's argument expressed (often not in words) by Catholic adults? DREs and catechists often bemoan that the biggest problem they face as catechists is not the children, but parents who do not reinforce or even at times work against what is being taught in the classroom. Many think of faith formation classes, and even religion, as a commodity and one that, to borrow a phrase from Burger King, they "want it their way."  The practice of religion isn't a part of their life, so they send their kids to us, but don't want to accept their responsibility to be the first and primary teachers of the faith for their children. Many of them do not have a relationship with God (although they will admit the are spiritual), so how can we expect their children to develop a relationship with God?

But the problem is not only among parents. The problem of "not wanting to learn about God," stretches across all ages. Some don't see the purpose of it, some want nothing to do with God, and some think that the education they received in eight years of religious education taught them all they need to know.  Then there are the people that may want to learn more but are just too busy.  How do we reach them all?  How do we convince them to come to know God? That is the million dollar question.

We have a mission as Catholics to share in Christ's mission to bring souls to God.  I need to ask myself regularly how well am I sharing in that mission? What am I doing to help others to understand that the one of the most important things we can do in life is come to know God, to learn about God and His plan for our lives.  After over a half century of learning about God (and with the degrees to prove it) I am still painfully aware of how little I know about God, and how much more I need to learn.  Christian formation is a life long endeavor that I hope I will continue until I finally meet Him who I desire most.

September 14, 2011

Lift High the Cross

Christ of St. John of the Cross
by Salvator Dali
"When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself, says the Lord."
(Jn 12:32)

As we celebrate today's Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross I am reminded of how often I find myself gazing upon the images of the Cross, more specifically the Crucifix, that are found in church and on the walls of my office and the rooms of my home. My most favorite image is the one pictured above painted by Salvatore Dali.  It is his interpretaion of a drawing done by St. John of the Cross who drew the image of the crucified Christ from the vantage point of the Father in Heaven.

Dali paints from the same vantage point but with such exquisit detail. The Cross hovers over the earth bathed in light from Heaven. Below is pictured a lake with fishermen tending their boats.  We know from Scripture that Jesus used the image of fishing as a symbol for gathering in abundant souls to Himself.  It is also interesting to note that there are no nails in the hands and feet of Jesus in Dali's painting. Also absent is the crown of thorns.  Dali's depection is said to have been revealed to him in a dream and these things were missing. 

The Cross is not an easy thing to accept.  St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians: 1:23  that  Christ crucified is "a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles."  Why do we make a gruesome symbol of death the primary symbol of our Catholic faith? As I look upon the Cross I reflect on what it is that the Cross represents.  Jesus' death upon the Cross shows us the depths that Jesus went to proove His Love for us.  His Cross also teaches us that in order to follow Jesus, we too must take up our crosses, knowing that if we bear them with the same Love and obedience as Jesus did, then we too will be glorified in Him. As we celebrate this Feast I thank the Lord for offering Himself upon the Cross for the salvation of all mankind. 

This morning at Mass, which was attended by our high school seniors, we sang this hymn.  I chose this version because of the beautiful art work but it is a wonderful hymn that unfortunatly we don't sing often enough in our parishes.

September 13, 2011

God speaks

School is back in session here on Long Island and as the first full week of classes begin so does the parish ministry year. Starting last Wednesday and up until this Thursday I count 8 meetings that I have attended or am supposed to attend here in the parish and on the diocesan level and there are more meetings coming up. Since I will be missing two weeks of work due to my surgery this coming Monday, there are so many things that have to be done before my last day of work on Sunday.  Not a good time of year for it to be necessary to take time off.  I wish this surgery could have been done in the summer, but things being the way they are it just didn't work out that way.  I guess there really is no good time for this kind of thing but hopefully all will go well and it will only be two weeks.  If not, then I am looking at a six week recovery.

As I have said in previous posts, I am  not that nervous about it and I think I am well prepared, but just to be sure I have Confession and Anointing of the Sick on my "to do" list for the weekend. Pre-op testing was this morning and all I need now is clearance from my primary physician. I find it amazing how God speaks the words I need to hear, just when I need to hear them. On Friday night I was at a meeting and someone asked if I would proclaim the first reading.  This was it:
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with  you. (Philippians 4:6-9)

Sunset in Assisi by Jo-Ann Metzdorff
Some people call these things coincidence, but for those of us who believe we know that there are no coincidences. The key is to recognize the voice of the Lord when He speaks. We don't need a mountain top experience or the sky to open up to hear His voice...we only need to be open to listening.  What I am hearing from this reading is that when we make prayer a priority in their life, when we dedicate our day to the Lord in praise and thanksgiving, then God will give us the peace that we seek and free us from anxiety.

There is another quote that I found for when things get a bit stressful and anxiety rears its ugly head. It is written by St.Teresa of Avila and is called her "bookmark."  I think this is going to go up on my wall, or at least I'll make my own bookmark.

Let nothing disturb thee; Let nothing dismay thee; All thing pass; God never changes. Patience attains all that it strives for. He who has God finds he lacks nothing: God alone suffices.

September 11, 2011

Keeping Silent

I find myself without words today so I decided to offer a quote that expresses my sentiments on this day:
Silence makes room for remembering. I don’t want to hear patriotic songs, jingoistic speeches, or even well-considered rehearsals of “what happened on that day.” I want to see no pictures of burning towers or flags waving. I wish for empty public space, a communal practice of quiet, to reflect on not only what happened on 9/11 but in the long, sad decade since. For just a brief time, I long for, in the words of an ancient hymn, “all mortal flesh keep silence,” in the face of the fear and trembling that gripped us one September day ten years ago.

I wonder what we would find there—of our selves, our neighbors, and God—in that void of words?
 It is from an blog entry written by Diana Butler Bass in her blog over at Pathos.

September 8, 2011

A Birthday and a Jubilee

Nativity of Mary by Domenico Ghirlandaio
Today is the Feast of the Nativity of Our Blessed Mother. I wrote a little about the birth of Mary in a post last May as part of my look at Marian art. It is one of three feasts in the liturgical year that celebrate a nativity. The other two are John the Baptist and of course our Lord Jesus. Today is also the Golden Jubilee of a former professor of mine's entrance into religious life and we will celebrating with her on Saturday.  

Mother and Infant by
Mary Cassat
In reflecting upon these two events I am drawn to meditate on the two womanly vocations of motherhood and consecrated life as a woman religious.  Mary is the model for both vocations.  As a mother, I look to Mary as a mother and a wife, as a woman who kept a home and raised her Child to adulthood. She experienced the joys and sorrows of motherhood.  I will always remember after my first child was baptized the women from the parish Legion of Mary came to my home to deliver my daughter's baptismal certificate to me.  One of the women told me that I have been given a gift  that I share with Mary and that I should pray to her to help me in my motherhood.  I have not always followed that advice and there have been times when I have felt that Mary really didn't have any relevance in my life. But lately I have tried to increase my devotion to her.  I still don't "feel" any consolations or sense her watching over me, but I have learned that faith is more than feelings and that I should not seek consolations (thank you John of the Cross).  However, I do have evidence that Mary is listening to my prayers and that she intercedes for me with her Son.

While I am not a consecrated woman religious, I do know that Mary serves as a model for them as well. Throughout the centuries, nuns and sisters have imitated Our Lady in her prayer, in her obedience to the Father, in her chastity, in her care for others and in her hospitality.  In their consecration to  a life dedicated singularly to the Lord, religious women are a sign to all of us women of what we all hope to strive for in our dedication to Christ. Although not mothers, they too have nurtured and educated children as Mary nurtured and educated Jesus in the ways of His Father.  Mary is also a model of humility, which is not a sign of weakness, but of strength in knowing who we are as women of faith who trust in the Lord and who work to bring the love of God to our families, our children, our students, our neighbors, our community, and to all we meet.

So, today we offer prayers of thanksgiving for the birth of Mary, for her "yes" to be the mother of Jesus, and we gift her with our devotion and honor her with our imitation of her virtues and her love of God.  And today I also offer prayers of thanksgiving for Sr. Mary Alice for her 50 years of dedication to the education and formation of so many priests, deacons and laypeople for ministry in the Church. May she continue in the good work God has called her to.

September 6, 2011

New Beginnings

Today was our annual Mass and luncheon to kick off the new school and parish ministry year. Here on Long Island Catholic schools begin classes tomorrow, and parish ministries which have been on hiatius for the summer will begin to meet again.  Our parish is one of two unique parishes on Long Island as we have both an elementary and a high school as well as over 60 active parish ministries. Over 130 members of our parish staff, faculty, and maintainance department gathered to ask God's blessing on this new year.

Even though my own kids are well beyond school age, I still get a bit of a thrill seeing kids in nice new clothes and backpacks standing on the corners with their parents waiting for the big yellow busses to scoop them up and carry them off to school. Today our kindergartners, in their neatly pressed new blue and white plaid uniforms, came in a day early to meet the teachers and explore their new classroom.  I get excited too about the new ministry year. I have several projects in the works, a few new ministries that are waiting to begin, and of course preparing the parish for the revised texts of the Third Edition of the Roman Missal. Then there are meetings and meetings and more meetings.  I think my impending surgery in two weeks will save me from only a few of them.

Yes, there is something exciting about new beginnings. In parish work it is time to get back into a routine, set priorities, meet new people and spread the Good News. It seems that the quietness of the parish suddenly ends come Labor Day and that interest in things with regard to our faith increases in September. We get calls for RCIA, interest in volunteering, and inquiries about courses.  There are last minute registrations for Religious Ed and more parish registrations. I think we all live in that "school year" mentality, but for God there are no seasons, no vacation time and every day is a new beginning.  God in His gracious Love for us gives us the opportunity each and every day to begin again, to let go of all that keeps us from His Love, and to start again.  Taking time each night to reflect on our day, to do an examen of consciousness, to see how we have failed living our Christian faith, where we have done well, and resolving to live our lives in Christ the following day.  It is a wonderful way to end the night.

So as the busses arrive in our parking lot tomorrow morning with kids from three to seventeen eager and ready to begin a new school year, I offer a prayer for their success and that they are open to their academic study and to learning about our wonderful faith.  I pray for the teachers happily greet their new students, that they will treat each student as Christ would. I pray for the parents, especially those whose children are just beginning their school career. and I pray for all in our parish and in parishes all over as they begin the new ministry year that our evangelization efforts, through the Grace of God, will bring new people into the faith, awaken the faith of those who are Catholic in name only, and create in our regular parishioners a deeper desire to know Christ and to live the Gospel.

September 5, 2011

Happy Labor Day

Idleness is the enemy of the soul. Therefore, the community members should have specified periods for manual labor as well as for prayerful reading - Rule of St. Benedict
Today is Labor Day, and the day to celebrate all those who labor to support themselves and their families and contribute to the economy of our nation.  It is a day to be with family and friends, bar-be-que, and even though there are over two weeks left until the autumn equinox and the days and the ocean are still warm, it is the traditional end of summer and for most of us it means going back to our normal routine.

Labor Day originally began as a day when people who worked hard and for long hours would get recognition by the government and given a day off.  It was a day to acknowledge the hard work that people did in factories, in the fields, in service to the community, and has expanded to include all kinds of work in offices, schools, in anyway that people earn their way.  It acknowledges that work is important. It is important not only in an economical and financial sense but in a spiritual sense as well.

St. Benedict knew the value of work.  He made it an important part of the rule of his communities...ora et labora, prayer and work are the foundations of monastic life. "Idleness is the enemy of the soul", he wrote.  We have all heard it reworded "idleness is the devil's playground" or "idle hands make the devil's work."  These saying are not suggesting that we work until we drop, or push ourselves beyond what is reasonably required, but when we work, when we engage in labor of any kind, we keep our minds and our bodies focused on what we are doing and thus avoiding temptations that idleness can bring.

Work, when done in the sense of giving glory to God, can be a very spiritual experience.  When I start my workday with prayer all seems to go better.  OK, I admit, I work for the Church, so it might be a bit easier to focus my work on the Lord, but, as anyone knows who has ever worked in a parish office or in Church ministry, it can bring it's own kind of challenges and sometimes we can easily lose that focus.  When that happens, it is time to stop and say a brief prayer.  St. Benedict knew this when he established hours of prayer throughout the day when work would cease when the work of God or Opus Dei would be prayed with the community.  Try it when things on the job get tense or overwhelming.

I discovered that work is mentioned 480 times in the Bible.  Right at the beginning, God put Adam in the garden "to cultivate and to care for it (Gen 2:15), yet because of the fall, man's labor and toil increased (Gen. 3:17b-19). In the New Testament, Jesus teaches us in parables about workers in the fields and vineyards.  Paul writes,
aspire to live a tranquil life, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your own hands, as we have instructed you, that you may conduct yourselves properly toward outsiders and not depend on anyone. (1Thes. 4:11)
The Church too views work as something that is important and necessary to the human state. Blessed Pope John Paul II wrote in his 1981 Encyclical Letter Laborem Exercens (On Human Work):
Work is a good thing for man-a good thing for his humanity-because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfilment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes "more a human being".
All too often today however, work  has become a means to an end, so to speak for many.  It is a way to increase what we have but really don't need.  It has created a society where consumerism and materialism have become more important than earning our keep and keeping food on our table and a home over our heads.  On the other side, there are those who work tirelessly for unjust wages and in oppressive conditions.  I am thinking of those around the world in sweat shops and fields, especially children who are forced to labor like slaves, while those who "employ" them get rich.  There are those, many undocumented, who stand in front of home improvement stores or in parking lots waiting for a contractor or landscaper to choose them to work just for the day, for less than minimum wage.  I think of the elderly men and women in my supermarket who, at a time when they could be retired and enjoying their last days, are forced to keep working to make ends meet. The mothers who are forced into working instead of raising their children because of the high cost of living. And those, who because of our consumer mindset, are working this day in stores so we can take advantage of the best sales.  These are the forgotten laborers, the ones we really don't celebrate today. Many of them are working today while the we relax in our yards.  We need to remember them and to see that unfair labor practices are eradicated so that all may enjoy rest and fruits from their work.

What ever we do, where ever we work, we must always remember that we are called to work in the Vineyard of the Lord, to do His bidding, and to labor tirelessly so that His Kingdom will come.  It is this kind of work that we should never rest from.  Today is the fourteenth anniversary of the death of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. If ever a woman worked for the Lord, it was she. She labored physically every day to help the poor and the dying, to protect the unborn, and to bring Christ to the world.  Her work brought glory to God.  She writes:
There is always the danger that we may just do the work for the sake of the work. This is where the respect and the love and the devotion come in - that we do it to God, to Christ, and that's why we try to do it as beautifully as possible.
There is a lot to think about in that quote. Whatever we may do to earn a living, do we do it just for the sake of work, or do we, in some way, consider our work as a means of living the Gospel and bringing Christ to others?

Happy Labor Day, enjoy your rest, but don't rest from praying.

September 4, 2011

Celebrate who we are.

Deacon Greg over at The Deacon's Bench posted this video yesterday. Isn't it great to see young people celebrating our Cathoic faith!  This is what the New Evangelization is about...getting the word out to our young people (and us older folks too).

September 3, 2011

Be Prepared

It is interesting how my impending surgery is causing me to meditate on my own mortality.  The other day I filled out a Health Care Proxy, which, please God, will not be necessary. But then again one never knows what might happen. Today after Mass I found myself paging through the hymnal at funeral songs as people were arriving for a funeral.  I am not trying to be morbid, but these are things that most people don't want to think about, but perhaps should.  I am not anxious or frightened, or expecting the worst. I just want to be prepared.

I also find my nesting instinct is being put into action.  Given the fact that I will be home recovering for at least two weeks, I want everything to be nice and neat since I won't be able to do much. Yesterday I washed the remains of Hurricane Irene off all my windows and we cleared the yard of the rest of the leaves and branches. Everything we took down is mostly back up again.  I bought paint samples for the dining room but I am not sure if I am going to get around to that.  It reminds me of my pregnancies when the nesting instinct took over just before I gave birth. I was painting the house shingles the day before my youngest was born, which could account for the reason she was two weeks early.  

My spiritual instincts are also in high gear. Of course I am praying for no complications, and for the doctors and nurses who will care for me, but I am also praying that the Lord reveal to me where I stand before Him. Am I ready, as we heard in today's first reading from Colossians, to be presented to God "...holy, without blemish, and irreproachable before Him"?  During the next two weeks before my surgery, I am thinking this will be the basis for my meditation, but it is also something to meditate upon, or at least keep in the back of my mind, at all times.  We know that the Lord might call us at anytime, even when we least expect it.  I was prepared for Irene, I am getting prepared for surgery and recovery, and I am working on always being prepared to meet Jesus whenever He might call me home.

September 1, 2011


As a Benedictine Oblate I read the Holy Rule of St. Benedict three times a year. Today, September 1st, we again begin the Prologue.

L I S T E N carefully, my child,
to your master's precepts,
and incline the ear of your heart (Prov. 4:20).
Receive willingly and carry out effectively
your loving father's advice,
that by the labor of obedience
you may return to Him
from whom you had departed by the sloth of disobedience.

To you, therefore, my words are now addressed,
whoever you may be,
who are renouncing your own will
to do battle under the Lord Christ, the true King,
and are taking up the strong, bright weapons of obedience.

And first of all,
whatever good work you begin to do,
beg of Him with most earnest prayer to perfect it,
that He who has now deigned to count us among His children
may not at any time be grieved by our evil deeds.
For we must always so serve Him
with the good things He has given us,
that He will never as an angry Father disinherit His children,
nor ever as a dread Lord, provoked by our evil actions,
deliver us to everlasting punishment
as wicked servants who would not follow Him to glory.
The Prologue sets the tone for the whole Rule. It is a loving father speaking to his children and teaching them the ways of God and how to live a life prefering "nothing to the Love of Christ."  Holy Father Benedict begins with the word "LISTEN." In Latin the word is "obsculta" which not only means to listen but to obey.  Humble obedience is the hallmark of the Holy Rule. To obey someone is to listen carefully to what someone in authority has to say to us and then to follow what is asked of us.

To someone who first picks up the Rule it may seem harsh and difficult, but as one delves into the fatherly guidance and loving admonitions found in its brief pages, he or she begins to understand that the path outlined in the Rule is not harsh but challenging. To live the Rule is to live life in union with God.  We are to "listen" not just with our ears but with the ears of our hearts for God speaks to us in our hearts. Obedience to God and to the Rule brings with it a freedom and opens our hearts to be truly human, truly children of God.

On Beauty as a way to God

Zenit has published the text of Pope Benedict's Wednesday audience .  It was good to read that he included architecture as one of the types of art that express our faith. He said, in speaking about the great Gothic cathedrals, "We are ravished by the vertical lines that reach heavenward and draw our gaze and our spirit upward, while at the same time, we feel small and yet yearn to be filled."  Who does not stand in awe when confronted by this "theology" in stone.

The awesome majesty of God is reflected in nature, the work of His hands.  Yet, God also created us with the ability to create things of beauty. When we as artists produce works of art, we are participating, through the Grace of God, in His creative power, and we have a responsibility to create art that is truly beautiful and becomes "a moment of grace that moves us to strengthen our bond and our converstion wit the Lord."